REVIEW: Griffin Simplifi iPod Dock, Card Reader, and USB Hub

I don’t know about you, but my desktop is getting pretty cluttered these days. That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye out for more efficient devices. For example, when you start looking for a new LCD monitor, you may want to find one that comes with some extra USB ports or maybe an extra headphone jack. This way, you don’t have to go reaching for your actual computer when you need access to those ports. This can get you both convenience and added utility.

It was with this kind of thinking in mind that the Griffin Simplifi was announced late last month. Well, Griffin Technology was kind enough to send one of these new desktop solutions over for a quick review, so let’s have a look at what this little wonder has to offer.

Features at a Glance

In a nutshell, the Griffin Simplifi offers three semi-separate functions in one convenient package. The Simplifi is a little bit bigger than most standalone multi-card readers, but it does more than read memory cards. First, it works as a docking station for your iPod or iPhone. It will work with any dock-based iPod, connecting your portable music player to your computer the same way that the normal USB cable would do so. The dock is for both synchronization and for charging.

Next, there are two USB 2.0 ports in the back that can be used for all kinds of USB devices. Use it to hook up your keyboard, your mouse, webcam, USB flash drive, or even a humping bunny if that’s your kind of thing. The Simplifi may take up one port on your computer, but it offers two more.

Third, there are two card slots in the front. The larger one on the right will accept CompactFlash cards, whereas the one on the left takes Memory Stick (MS), Secure Digital (SD), and xD memory cards. If you want to read microSD or miniSD cards, you’ll need to make use of the appropriate adapter.

Generally speaking, I’m quite happy with the overall design and build quality of the Griffin Simplifi. I would have really preferred if the USB hub was a little more accessible, because having the two ports in the back just makes for some awkward reaching sometimes. It may have taken some engineering ingenuity, but placing those ports either on the front or on the side would have been an improvement. The materials used are similar to that of the PowerDock, but the aluminum is not grooved. I do like the silver and white color scheme though.

What About SDHC Memory Cards?

Even though there isn’t a symbol on the Simplifi nor is there explicit mention of it on the box, this desktop solution can indeed read SDHC memory cards too. I inserted a 4GB card from ATP and it worked just fine. I can’t say how far the firmware will take you, so your mileage with 8GB and 16GB cards may vary. I know that some card readers have issues with the higher capacities.

Again, this all achieved through a single USB connection, so the data transfer speed may suffer a little when you try to perform multiple tasks at once. For example, if you’re reading a SDHC card and a CompactFlash card, all the while synchronizing your iPod, you may find a bit of a performance slump. Overall though, this should be just fine and it’s a small price to pay for added convenience.

Two Cables? Who Needs Two Cables?

Speaking of convenience, when I first wrote about the Griffin Simplifi, I noted that the integrated USB hub was not actually bus-powered. In this way, I thought that the included AC adapter was necessary for you to use either of the two included USB 2.0 ports. Thankfully, I was mistaken. Sort of.

By having to use two cables (one for the USB connection and the other for AC power), I thought that the Simplifi could actually provide for more clutter rather than less clutter. Thankfully, the AC adapter is optional. If you are using the USB 2.0 ports for low-power devices, the Simplifi will be able to provide enough juice through the USB bus power. I tried this with a wireless mouse and a USB flash drive and things were just fine. I’d imagine that higher-draw devices, like webcams and scanners, may require the AC adapter.

Charging Without Synchronizing?

A small beef that I have with the Simplifi is that it is not possible for you to charge your iPhone or iPod without setting the sync process in motion. I understand that you can adjust your settings in iTunes, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could use the Simplifi as a simple charging dock as well, drawing power from the AC adapter rather than the USB cable? If you do not have a USB cable connected, the Simplifi does nothing. When it is connected, the small blue LED lights up and everything is activated.

I think there would certainly be some value to adding simple charging to the equation, because then you could use the Simplifi to charge your iPod/iPhone while your computer is off. From what I understand, the AC adapter only provides power through the USB hub and not through the iPod dock connector.

Closing Thoughts

Priced at $69.99, the Griffin Simplifi isn’t exactly the cheapest desktop solution on the block. You could probably get away with buying the three main functions separately and save a few bucks, but that’s not the point of Simplifi. The point is to de-clutter your desk and provide a simplified solution.

The build quality, choice of materials, and overall appearance are quite good and I had no problems with the functionality. Griffin has done a good job, but I would have really liked to see the re-positioning of the USB hub and the inclusion of a sans computer charging solution as well.


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